How to Create a Layered Image in Cricut Design Space

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Have you found a really great image that you want to make into a cut file, but it’s a single color and you want it to be multiple layers and colors? Are you trying to figure out how to make a JPG or PNG file into a cut file compatible with your Cricut machine? I’ve created a set of short tutorials on different ways to create a layered image for Cricut. To make it accessible, I’m using the most common image types.

This article teaches 4 ways to create layered images for Cricut Design Space – choose one based on your starting image

Different images require different methods to prepare them for cutting in Cricut Design Space. The 4 different ways I lay out for you are:

  1. ADDING LAYERS to a single-layer image (like a JPG, PNG or SVG) with the Contour tool
  2. SEPARATING a JPG or PNG image into cuttable layers with the Background Remover and Contour tools
  3. SEPARATING a JPG or PNG image into cuttable layers with the Background Remover only
  4. VECTORIZING a JPG or PNG image to SVG with Photopea, a free online tool. This method converts image files to SVGs *before* you upload them to Design Space.

Choose your own adventure: What does your starting image look like?

If your starting image is a black outline (can be a JPG, PNG or SVG file) and you want to add multiple color layers, go to the first tutorial:

Method 1: Adding layers of color to a single layer image

read the first tutorial if your image is a simple one color, one layer JPG, PNG or SVG and you want to add more layers

If your starting image is full color with a black outline and you want to separate the colors into layers, go to the second tutorial:

Method 2: Separating a color image into multiple layers with the Background Remover and Contour tools

read the second tutorial if your image is a multicolor JPG or PNG with an outline and you want to separate the image into layers
Source: Pixabay.com

If your starting image is full color without a black outline and you want to separate the colors into layers, go to the third tutorial:

Method 3: Separating a color image into multiple layers with the Background Remover tool


To learn the easiest method that I have found for turning most JPG or PNG files into multi-layer SVGs that work in Design Space, go to the fourth tutorial:

Method 4: Easy method for vectorizing a JPG or PNG into an SVG before importing into Design Space


Method 1: How to Create a Layered Image in Cricut Design Space

This part of the tutorial is specifically if your starting image is a simple black outline. This method ADDS layers. If you want to turn your basic one-color, one-layer design into a multi-color, multi-layer cut file in Cricut Design Space, follow these steps.

VIDEO: How to Create a Layered Image in Cricut Design Space

Import image and use Background Remover

  1. Open a blank Design Space Canvas. If you are starting with your own image, click the “Upload” icon in the left-hand sidebar
    • If you upload an SVG file, you can add it directly to your canvas and proceed with the tutorial (skip to step 6)
    • If you upload a JPG or PNG (bitmap file), you will be taken to the Background Remover. Design Space will begin converting your basic bitmap image to a vector
    • For this demonstration, I used an image from Cricut Access (#M16F55975). In order to show you every step from uploading to tracing to creating layers, I made a screenshot of the vector so I was starting with a PNG image.
starting image for creating a layered image in Design Space
  1. In the first screen of the image tracing process, you will be asked to select whether your image is simple, moderately complex, or complex.
    • Simple” images are described as High-contrast colors (ie. black and white) and transparent or monochrome background. This would describe the images I am using in this demonstration
    • Moderately complex” images are described as simple details and color, with good contrast between the subject and background.
    • Complex” images are described as fine detail, blended colors (gradients), or low contrast between subject and background. This describes photos or digital images designed for screen or print.
After uploading starting image, select the complexity level

Use Automatic or Manual Background removal tools

  1. In the second screen of the Background Remover, you have the opportunity to selectively erase the background and filled parts of the image if required.
    • There are two options for editing your image on this screen: Automatic and Manual.
    • If you have a JPG, and if you are a Cricut Access member, use the Automatic Background Remover. If your image is black and white, this option will remove all of the white, outside and inside the design. (Desktop DS only). If you don’t have Access, use the manual tools.
    • If your image is a PNG with a transparent background, select the magic wand tool. Click each area to be erased before proceeding.
Use the background remover tool remove the white areas inside and outside your image
  1. After your image is cleaned up, click the cut image preview option. You will see how your design will look on the canvas. If you missed anything, you can fix it before you proceed. If everything looks good, click “Apply and Continue”
  2. Select your image as a cut file, update the file name if you like (optional) and click the Upload button. Now your traced bitmap is converted to a vector and ready to be added to the Design Space canvas
select cut image as the upload type in Design Space

Add image to canvas and use the contour tool

  1. Add your image to the Design Space Canvas
  2. Make a duplicate of the image for every layer you want (I did 4)
make a duplicate of your image for each colored layer on the Design Space canvas
  1. Open the Contour tool in the lower right-hand corner of Design Space
Uses the contour tool to create layered image in design space
  1. Layer 1 (base layer): click on each part of the image you want to hide. I hid every element except the main shape. This will be the bottom layer of my design. After I am finished with the Contour tool, I have just a simple shape. I changed the color (pink) to match the vinyl I want to use as the background layer.
for the first layer of your image, select the contour tool, then select Hide all Contours. This will leave you with the basic outline.
  1. Repeat for the next layer. I hid all elements except the outline on layer 2. Then all elements except the face on layer three. And finally, all elements except the eye highlights on layer four.
  2. After I have contoured every layer, I can arrange everything on the canvas to make sure it all looks OK. Then I can click the Make It button and proceed to select materials and settings and cut out the design!
after you have used the contour tool on each layer, you can modify the color of each layer and you're ready to cut a multi-layer design

Method 2: How to separate an image into layers in Cricut Design Space

This section will illustrate the steps you need to take if your starting image is a comic or cartoon style illustration (ie. an outlined drawing). Many tutorials feature Disney characters to show their method, and I know that classic style of Disney characters is popular with crafters. Color images with a black outline are popular choices for turning into cut files, but how do you separate the image into different color layers?

VIDEO: How to separate an image into layers in Cricut Design Space

When I start with a color file and want to make separate layers in Design Space, what I do is reduce it to a single color frame. Then I build back the color layers using the contour tool. I won’t be using a Disney image to show you this technique, but I will use an image in a similar cartoony style.

Upload image and use Background Remover

  1. Open Design Space and start a new project with a blank canvas. Click the Upload icon in the left hand sidebar. Select your file to upload. If you are uploading a PNG or JPG file, you will be directed to the Background Remover. Design Space will begin converting your bitmap (raster) image to a vector.
start by uploading your PNG or JPG file to Design Space
  1. In the first screen of the image tracing process, you will be asked to select whether your image is simple, moderately complex, or complex. Select whichever applies. (You can usually select simple if you have a good quality PNG)
Select the complexity of your image to be converted to cut file
  1. In the second screen of the Background Remover you will use erase tool to delete pixels in the background. Then use the magic wand to selectively delete all of the colored bits. Remember, we want a single color framework to build back all of the color layers.
Use the Background remover tool to delete each colored section of your image.
  1. Use the preview cut file tool frequently to see if you are leaving behind stray pixels or rough edges when you delete color areas. Use the eraser tool to clean up edges.
    • When satisfied with the cleanup, click Apply and continue. You’ll get a preview image of your image as a cut file and a cut and print file. Choose cut file. You can update the file name if you like, but then the file is ready to be uploaded to the canvas.
  2. When you add the image to the canvas, you should have just a simple black frame. Make a duplicate layer for every different color you want in the finished image. You can highlight the image and then click duplicate at the top of the right-hand sidebar (or right-click on the image and select Duplicate)

Add image to canvas and use the contour tool

make a duplicate of your image for each color you want in your design
  1. For the first layer, I’ll make a solid shape that will be the base layer that for all of the colors. Click the layer to highlight it, then click the contour tool in the lower right hand corner.
    • Select the Hide All Contours option at the bottom of the contour window. This will leave you with the base shape.
Select the contour tool, then select "Hide all Contours" to create a solid base layer
  1. Move the first layer off to the side and select another duplicate of the image. Click the Contour tool and select all of the elements you want to be the same color. Make sure you click “off” the top layer (That’s the cut around the outside of the shape). Repeat this step until you have filled in all of your colors.
    • When you are finished contouring each layer, you can use the color selection tool to change the shape element to whatever color you want
on the 2nd layer, use the contour tool to select every cut you want in a specific color
  1. Your cut file should look the same as the original flat image you started with and it’s ready to cut into layers!
all the steps of using the contour tool to build colored layers for your cut file

If this method seems like too many steps, skip ahead to see my JPG to SVG shortcut method.

Method 3: How to use the Background Remover to separate colors into layers

This portion of the tutorial is if you are using an image that is multi-color but doesn’t have an outline to serve as a framework to use the contour tool. Instead of using the Contour tool, use the Background Remover tool to separate and save each color as a layer for import to the Design Space canvas.

VIDEO: How to use the Cricut Background Remover to separate colors into layers

This process is more tedious (IMO) as it requires you to upload several copies of your image into DS and use the Background Remover tool to import each color separately. The steps below outline the process, but if you want an easier way, skip ahead for my shortcut method.

Import your image file and use the Background Remover

  1. Open a new canvas in Design Space and click the upload icon in the left hand sidebar. Select the PNG or JPG from your computer.
  2. On the next screen, choose the complexity level of your image: simple, moderate or complex. In this case, you may want select complex, especially if your image is a JPG. Click continue to go to the Background remover screen.
  3. On the Background Remover screen, you can use the Automatic tool to remove the background and you should be left with a silhouette of the image you want to import. If you don’t have Cricut Access membership, you can do this manually with the Magic Wand tool.
    • This will be your base layer.
remove the background of your image. Use this as the base layer of your project.
  • To import these images, I will return to this step over and over, and import the image one color at a time. The first layer will be the entire shape, and this will be the base layer for everything else. If you are making this image out of HTV instead of paper or adhesive vinyl, you may not need a base layer.
  • The layer outline will be in your uploaded image library and you can select Upload Image again to add the next layer

Repeat each step to create new layers

  1. Repeat the previous step with your image (choose image complexity) and remove the background. Use the Magic wand to select one color at a time. In my example, the frog is made up of 4 shades of green, plus black and white. So I will delete everything but the light green areas first, then save that shape as a new image to be added to the canvas.
separate each color with the Magic Wand tool. Repeat this step for each color or shade.
  1. If the Magic Wand tool is deleting too much of your image, try lowering the color tolerance level. (I got good results when I lowered it from 16 to 5)
    • Make sure you click Cut Preview after using your Magic Wand tool. There will be scattered pixels around the areas you just deleted. Clean them up with the eraser tool. (You can make the eraser bigger to make this go faster.)
use the cut preview to see any pixels left behind after you delete a colored area. Clean up with the Eraser tool.

Add all layers to Design Space and customize colors

  1. After you have created new shapes for every color in your design and saved them to your uploaded image library, select them all and add them to the Design Space canvas. Here you can change the color of each layer and re-assemble all of the pieces. Now your image is ready to cut!
highlight all of the traced layers and add to canvas. you have created your layered image in Cricut Design Space.

Method 4: Vectorize a JPG or PNG file for Cricut Design Space (1 min method)

If the steps above seem too tedious and repetitive (trust me, I get it, I did it once for this article and I hated it), here’s a shortcut that takes 1 minute. You can use PhotoPea.com to easily convert bitmap files to vector images for free and without a lot of specialized know-how.

VIDEO: Vectorize a basic JPG or PNG file in PhotoPea.com (1 min method)

  1. Go to photopea.com. Select Open file from computer. Select your image file.
  2. In the top menu bar, select Image > Vectorize Bitmap. You’ll get a preview of the vectorized file. You can make adjustments to the number of colors and the the style (photo or cartoon). Usually the default settings work for me. Select OK to complete the vectorization.
upload your image to photopea.com and go to Image > vectorize bitmap in the menu bar
original image vs vector preview
  1. Optional: Delete Background. On the right hand sidebar, locate the layers section. Highlight the background layer (at the bottom of the list) and delete it.
  2. In the menu bar, go to File > Export As and select SVG from the list. You will be able to save an SVG version of your image on your computer.
to save as vector, go to file > Export As and select SVG
  1. Open Design Space and upload your newly created SVG and add it to your canvas. The image will already be divided into layers that retain all the original colors.
import into Cricut design space and all of the colored layers are available as cuttable shapes.

Final thoughts

I hope these tutorials have been helpful in showing you a few different ways of both adding layers and separating layers for your Cricut projects. These 4 methods will cover most of the images you might want to import into Design Space and expand into colorful projects.

If you want to convert a photograph into a vector for Design Space, we have a detailed tutorial on the subject here. On the other hand, if you are looking for sources of free vector and bitmap images for projects, check out our curated list here.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!

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